Waiter’s Recollections of the National Republican Capitol Hill Club

August 15, 2016

in Server Stories

It was Tuesday morning, November 4th 2014, election day, when I received a phone call. The man on the line saw my resume and was looking for a part-time employee. He asked me to come in for an interview. I was more than amused when I found out who was calling. He was the food and beverage manager at the National Republican Capitol Hill Club (NRCHC), a private club for Republicans serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, located two blocks from the U.S. Capitol Building. The GOP must have known they were going to win big that day and that they needed more banquet help.

The reason I was amused is because I am a lifelong liberal Democrat. I’ve voted Republican twice in my life and once was in my first election in 1972. But I went in to talk and I was hired. I worked as a bartender and a waiter at special events held for members of Congress and their constituencies.

During my tenure there I witnessed the Republican civil war in Congress between zealots from the Freedom Caucus, also known as the Tea Party, and the Republican establishment. And all this occurred before Donald Trump came along and added a third faction to the fray. It was easy work, setting up, serving meals and then breaking it down. As a former newspaper reporter with 30 years experience, I kept my mouth shut and my eyes and ears wide open during the 13 months I worked there.

Let me just say that the management staff at the NRCHC treat their staff like gold. The pay was outstanding. They were fair, generous and supportive. Following banquets, there was always plenty of food left over and we were free to eat it. That’s probably the reason that their entire wait staff, with only a few exceptions, is fat. Plus, they have an employee Christmas party where the management and board of directors serve the servers and cooks. Everyone gets a free turkey or a ham at Thanksgiving.

While I expected to see devils with horns, that turned out not to be the case. I watched Rick Santorum give a lecture to the Conservative Opportunity Society about cybersecurity. Listened to Lynne Cheney, wife of the former vice president, talk about her biography on James Madison. Worked dozens of fundraisers for congressmen and heard their obligatory denunciation of President Obama which all Republican donors loved.

When Kansas State University brought all its new college professors to Washington, D.C., they held a reception at the NRCHC. Right wing, Freedom Caucus Kansas Congressman Tim Huelskamp was there with his wife. Though Huelskamp stood beside my bar for over an hour while socializing with his constituents, he did not drink. He had the reputation as a firebrand who defied the Republican leadership and hated Barack Obama. The reason that particular banquet stands out is because Huelskamp was defeated in a Kansas GOP primary last Tuesday.

But perhaps my most salient memory was the last speech Speaker of the House John Boehner gave to a group of 200 the week before he retired. Boehner was a favorite of the NRCHC staff. He treated them with respect and remembered particulars about their families. He drank the house Merlot out of a bottle that featured his picture on the label. He always had a tan, even in winter. Given the cancer danger of tanning booths I wondered why. My theory was that he was such a heavy cigarette smoker that he liked the orange glow because it hid the gray pallor that sometimes appears in a smoker’s complexion.

Looking out at the crowd Boehner said, “Friends, I’ve known many of you for over 20 years and I have to be honest. I can’t wait to get the hell out of here. And the Freedom Caucus? I don’t even know what they want. They are anarchists who want more power so they can create more anarchy.” I thought those were bold words for one Republican against another. No press was present, so that line which I thought was so headline worthy at the time was never reported. It seems Boehner got out while the getting was good. He hasn’t been seen or heard from since. Huelskamp will be replaced in January.

As a waiter, I’ve served the politically powerful for years. One thing you learn is that despite their big job title and press attention, D.C. politicians are temporary place holders who are soon replaced by other temporary placeholders. As it turns out, old waiters have a much longer shelf life.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

anon August 16, 2016 at 3:00 am

you must be fun at parties.

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Aaron August 17, 2016 at 4:19 pm

Not a dinner from hell, just a self-serving column about the poster.

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Alfonso August 17, 2016 at 10:23 pm

Maybe a dinner from hell depending upon your political point of view.

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Orville Nelson November 22, 2016 at 2:30 pm

Actually, as a liberal Democrat myself who works in a legislative setting, I can confirm that many of the easiest members to approach and get along with are the Republicans. Politics aside, I thought this was a great behind the scenes look.

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Janet Macek December 30, 2016 at 5:04 pm

Enjoyed this report very much.

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